At SC19: Bespoke Supercomputing for Climate and Weather

By Oliver Peckham

November 20, 2019

Weather and climate applications are some of the most important uses of HPC – a good model can save lives, as well as billions of dollars. But many weather and climate models struggle to run efficiently in their HPC environments, with users reporting “fundamentally inappropriate” node and CPU designs and job efficiencies below one percent. So when Bob Sorensen, vice president of research and technology at Hyperion Research, reached out to weather and climate organizations, he had a tantalizing question for them to answer: “What’s your dream HPC?”

Finding the dream HPC system for weather and climate

Hyperion Research, Sorensen explained at SC19, had been approached by NASA about a year ago to explore options for bespoke HPC solutions targeted at weather and climate research. To tackle this question, Hyperion conducted a two-phase study: first, they surveyed 15 different weather and climate organizations in the U.S. and Europe, including the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the University of Delaware and more. 

Bob Sorensen, vice president of research and technology at Hyperion Research. Image courtesy of Hyperion Research.

“The focus of the study was to gather insights through a series of surveys with not only weather people from around the world,” Sorensen explained, “but also taking what we did in those surveys to understand what their requirements were for producing weather and climate research.”

Then, after asking those organizations about their needs, they approached major HPC suppliers – including Dell EMC, Cray, HPE and IBM – and surveyed them about the challenges and opportunities about developing a system suited for weather and climate applications. Sorensen said they wanted to “talk to HPC vendors and say, ‘what would be some of the options for producing that kind of system if it became available? How would you participate? What would your response be?’”

Phase one: The weather and climate organizations

“The concern we heard most has to do with feeding the beast,” Sorensen said. “Everyone was relatively happy with the CPU capabilities of their system, but bandwidth was considered to be extremely problematic. We heard time and time again that memory and storage latency and bandwidth are the big problems. It’s why the existing weather and climate jobs don’t run as effectively as they could.”

“If you have a data-starved CPU,” he said, “it doesn’t matter how fast your processor is.”

Organizations cited a lack of diversity in processor design and selection, Sorensen said, and showed eagerness to integrate AI into weather and climate workloads by using machine learning to optimize jobs. They also expressed a general reluctance to introduce GPUs into their workloads in serious ways, arguing that the “pain and suffering” required to integrate GPUs made them currently non-viable. And, after all, the respondents argued, if they were still bottlenecked by interconnect issues, GPUs would just widen the gap between processing power and results.

The weather and climate organizations, Sorensen said, “expressed their opinions very vociferously.” He stressed that the organizations were not united on all fronts (“We didn’t see a general, universal agreement”), and that even within organizations, it was “four, five, six, ten people” arguing in a room about how they should respond to the survey questions. 

“Even though you can argue that they’re all modeling the same Earth,” he reflected, “there’s a lot of different ways to do that.”

The respondents were also concerned about the scalability of their code, acknowledging that much of it would need to be rewritten – but, they said, they currently lacked the strong base of software development tools they would need to support rewriting.

Phase two: The vendors

“Everyone said, ‘Hey, we’re really interested in exploring this,’ but the level of commitment varied greatly,” Sorensen said of the vendors surveyed. Even at $10- or $100-million levels of buy-in, he explained, “they said that the opportunity costs of concentrating effort … just simply was too great, unless that particular box had applicability across a wider range of areas.” Instead, the vendors steered their answers toward flexibility: “How can you take that range of issues that are available out there in terms of the design flexibility of HPC, and turn it into a machine that most completely meets your requirements?” 

They also expressed confusion at the unclear requirements of the weather and climate sector due to their wide and varied workloads. “Vendors,” Sorensen said, “were very unclear on what really matters to these folks.” Furthermore, vendors were worried that if they tried to cater to a wide range of needs, the systems would have “too many cooks.” (“It will respond to everyone’s requirements equally, which means it doesn’t respond to any of those requirements very well,” Sorensen said.)

“Almost every vendor,” Sorensen continued, “said if you could spend a dollar on anything, spend it on software modernization.” Vendors stressed that more performance-per-dollar could be gained from investing in leveraging technology from the last few years: heterogeneous architectures, high-bandwidth memory, burst buffers, SSD/spinning disk combinations and more. They acknowledged that this would be an “exceedingly painful operation,” but, Sorensen said, the choice seemed to be whether to “fight one goal today, or fight two goals tomorrow.”

Moving forward

“Upfront codesign efforts are critical,” Sorensen said, stressing the need to “sit down with the vendors,” who, he said, were probably in the best position to know what would be available in the coming years. Furthermore, he suggested, “any of these codesign efforts should seek to engage the wider weather and climate community” – not just a select few organizations.

Sorensen presenting at NASA’s SC19 booth

Sorensen also highlighted the need for effective benchmarking. “This would be, I think, a critical element in NASA being able to assess the value of particular efforts – to say not ‘We got a system that is 500 petaflops,’ but ‘We got a new system that’s running this application 37 times faster than the machine from two years ago.’”

Sorensen suggested that weather and climate organizations embrace new workload compositions, such as AI for modeling and simulation. “Think about how you can enrich the modeling and simulation environment by using big data analytics to help you better some of your solutions,” he said. Beyond AI, he floated hybrid deployments as both a solution for absorbing large workload fluctuations and as a testbed for weather and climate researchers to experiment with new hardware and software offerings.

Finally, Sorensen saw opportunities for mutual benefit between sectors. “Find verticals that are in the same position that you’re in,” he urged. “Because if you go to a vendor and say ‘We really like this, is this something you’d be able to supply – oh and by the way, the pharmaceutical guys would love it, the oil and gas guys would love it and the automotive sector would love it too!’, you’re going to get the sales guy sitting up and listening to you.”

“I don’t think this is unique to the NASA environment,” Sorensen concluded. “And I don’t think it’s unique to the weather environment, either. I think that there’s probably an awful lot of use cases out there that haven’t been modernized yet, haven’t really adapted to some of the changes going on in the HPC sector in, say, the last five years.”

“I think it’s admirable that NASA is one of the first groups to step forward and say, ‘Let’s start thinking about this process.’”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Amid Upbeat Earnings, Intel to Cut 1% of Employees, Add as Many

January 24, 2020

For all the sniping two tech old timers take, both IBM and Intel announced surprisingly upbeat earnings this week. IBM CEO Ginny Rometty was all smiles at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, after  Read more…

By Doug Black

Indiana University Dedicates ‘Big Red 200’ Cray Shasta Supercomputer

January 24, 2020

After six months of celebrations, Indiana University (IU) officially marked its bicentennial on Monday – and it saved the best for last, inaugurating Big Red 200, a new AI-focused supercomputer that joins the ranks of Read more…

By Staff report

What’s New in HPC Research: Tsunamis, Wildfires, the Large Hadron Collider & More

January 24, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Toshiba Promises Quantum-Like Advantage on Standard Hardware

January 23, 2020

Toshiba has invented an algorithm that it says delivers a 10-fold improvement for a select class of computational problems, without the need for exotic hardware. In fact, the company's simulated bifurcation algorithm is Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Energy Research Combines HPC, 3D Manufacturing

January 23, 2020

A federal energy research initiative is gaining momentum with the release of a contract award aimed at using supercomputing to harness 3D printing technology that would boost the performance of power generators. Partn Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Solution Channel

Challenging the barriers to High Performance Computing in the Cloud

Cloud computing helps democratize High Performance Computing by placing powerful computational capabilities in the hands of more researchers, engineers, and organizations who may lack access to sufficient on-premises infrastructure. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Intelligent HPC – Keeping Hard Work at Bay(es)

Since the dawn of time, humans have looked for ways to make their lives easier. Over the centuries human ingenuity has given us inventions such as the wheel and simple machines – which help greatly with tasks that would otherwise be extremely laborious. Read more…

TACC Highlights Its Upcoming ‘IsoBank’ Isotope Database

January 22, 2020

Isotopes – elemental variations that contain different numbers of neutrons – can help researchers unearth the past of an object, especially the few hundred isotopes that are known to be stable over time. However, iso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Toshiba Promises Quantum-Like Advantage on Standard Hardware

January 23, 2020

Toshiba has invented an algorithm that it says delivers a 10-fold improvement for a select class of computational problems, without the need for exotic hardware Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

In Advanced Computing and HPC, Dell EMC Sets Sights on the Broader Market Middle 

January 22, 2020

If the leading advanced computing/HPC server vendors were in the batting lineup of a baseball team, Dell EMC would be going for lots of singles and doubles – Read more…

By Doug Black

DNA-Based Storage Nears Scalable Reality with New $25 Million Project

January 21, 2020

DNA-based storage, which involves storing binary code in the four nucleotides that constitute DNA, has been a moonshot for high-density data storage since the 1960s. Since the first successful experiments in the 1980s, researchers have made a series of major strides toward implementing DNA-based storage at scale, such as improving write times and storage density and enabling easier file identification and extraction. Now, a new $25 million... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AMD Recruits Intel, IBM Execs; Pending Layoffs Reported at Intel Data Platform Group

January 17, 2020

AMD has raided Intel and IBM for new senior managers, one of whom will replace an AMD executive who has played a prominent role during the company’s recharged Read more…

By Doug Black

Atos-AMD System to Quintuple Supercomputing Power at European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts

January 15, 2020

The United Kingdom-based European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), a supercomputer-powered weather forecasting organization backed by most of Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Julia Programming’s Dramatic Rise in HPC and Elsewhere

January 14, 2020

Back in 2012 a paper by four computer scientists including Alan Edelman of MIT introduced Julia, A Fast Dynamic Language for Technical Computing. At the time, t Read more…

By John Russell

White House AI Regulatory Guidelines: ‘Remove Impediments to Private-sector AI Innovation’

January 9, 2020

When it comes to new technology, it’s been said government initially stays uninvolved – then gets too involved. The White House’s guidelines for federal a Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Touts Quantum Network Growth, Improving QC Quality, and Battery Research

January 8, 2020

IBM today announced its Q (quantum) Network community had grown to 100-plus – Delta Airlines and Los Alamos National Laboratory are among most recent addition Read more…

By John Russell

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

SC19: IBM Changes Its HPC-AI Game Plan

November 25, 2019

It’s probably fair to say IBM is known for big bets. Summit supercomputer – a big win. Red Hat acquisition – looking like a big win. OpenPOWER and Power processors – jury’s out? At SC19, long-time IBMer Dave Turek sketched out a different kind of bet for Big Blue – a small ball strategy, if you’ll forgive the baseball analogy... Read more…

By John Russell

Julia Programming’s Dramatic Rise in HPC and Elsewhere

January 14, 2020

Back in 2012 a paper by four computer scientists including Alan Edelman of MIT introduced Julia, A Fast Dynamic Language for Technical Computing. At the time, t Read more…

By John Russell

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

IBM Unveils Latest Achievements in AI Hardware

December 13, 2019

“The increased capabilities of contemporary AI models provide unprecedented recognition accuracy, but often at the expense of larger computational and energet Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Jensen Huang’s SC19 – Fast Cars, a Strong Arm, and Aiming for the Cloud(s)

November 20, 2019

We’ve come to expect Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s annual SC keynote to contain stunning graphics and lively bravado (with plenty of examples) in support of GPU Read more…

By John Russell

Top500: US Maintains Performance Lead; Arm Tops Green500

November 18, 2019

The 54th Top500, revealed today at SC19, is a familiar list: the U.S. Summit (ORNL) and Sierra (LLNL) machines, offering 148.6 and 94.6 petaflops respectively, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

51,000 Cloud GPUs Converge to Power Neutrino Discovery at the South Pole

November 22, 2019

At the dead center of the South Pole, thousands of sensors spanning a cubic kilometer are buried thousands of meters beneath the ice. The sensors are part of Ic Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Cloud First with AMD Epyc Rome Processors

November 6, 2019

At Ignite 2019 this week, Microsoft's Azure cloud team and AMD announced an expansion of their partnership that began in 2017 when Azure debuted Epyc-backed instances for storage workloads. The fourth-generation Azure D-series and E-series virtual machines previewed at the Rome launch in August are now generally available. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel’s New Hyderabad Design Center Targets Exascale Era Technologies

December 3, 2019

Intel's Raja Koduri was in India this week to help launch a new 300,000 square foot design and engineering center in Hyderabad, which will focus on advanced com Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Summit Has Real-Time Analytics: Here’s How It Happened and What’s Next

October 3, 2019

Summit – the world’s fastest publicly-ranked supercomputer – now has real-time streaming analytics. At the 2019 HPC User Forum at Argonne National Laborat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This